Indonesian singer-songwriter NIKI shoots for the ‘moon’ and more in debut studio album

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Karen Lee

A rendering of singer songwriter Nicole Zefanya, also known as NIKI, and her first studio album, Moonchild. NIKI creates not only the space-age Moonchild persona in her music videos of some of her initial releases from this 10-song album, but in one particular track, she takes on another persona in “Selene.”

Rachel Yun

Breaking new musical boundaries while also staying original are common challenges for singers.

In her debut studio album released earlier this month, singer-songwriter Nicole Zenfaya — commonly known as NIKI — adds several layers to the production of her 10 new songs, many of which are worth checking out.

The first intricacy involves the album’s title, Moonchild.  In an Instagram post to her fans hours before the album’s release on Sept. 9, the 21-year-old Indonesian describes how Moonchild is a character she created that is embodied in the three music videos that have come out on YouTube so far.

NIKI, whose black hair and streetwear feature a natural look, portrays this alias with an other-worldly style with her black-to-white ombre hair, sheen and glossy makeup and a pale white dress. 

Another level of complexity that the artist sets up centers the organization of her songs from the album. Similar to a novel with a foreword and chapters, Moonchild is split into three sections of three songs excluding the foreword, which starts before the first section, according to Spotify.

The final layer in this Sept. 9-released album revolves around the music. Known for her love-song R&B singles, some of her newest tracks detract from her regular romance pop genre to a mix of indie and pop with emphasis on the album’s mysterious Moonchild figure.

“Tide” (in the album’s second section) features a combination of deeper bass and rap verses, contrasting the first section with a dark and slinky tone.

This three-minute song gives off a rush of feelings at once as the heavy beats and a darker tone in the beginning heavily contrast with the soft piano and quiet whispering in the background at the end.

Never back down, you’ll see me rise / Always alert, always aware / Always keep track of who’s there” is an example of her lyrics that display a new style for NIKI that utilizes a deeper tone.

“Lose,” the seventh and longest track in the album, highlights her emotive vocals while portraying the devastating realization of losing one’s feelings for a significant other. This song is also the first track in the album to utilize piano instrumentals and take on a more emotional subject compared to the rest of the album. 

While the album does not feature any guest artists, some of Moonchild’s songs are similar to Billie Eilish’s productions as both have a softer voice with a rough and choppy bass in the background.

The rest of the songs in the first section — “Nightcrawlers” at three minutes and 28 seconds and “Selene” at three minutes and 17 seconds — brings a new vibe to this work with smoother beats and sultry voices compared with the first single, “Switchblade.” The funky bass and the experimentation of rap verses differ from her usual romantic tunes from her earlier singles.

In “Selene,” a sultry seductive song, NIKI takes on another personality of a mysterious female figure who seems to entice everyone around her. Through the catchy and rhythmic lyrics — “And now she’s takin’ over me, A new notch on her belt, yeah,  And her face gleams like a prophecy, I might just lose myself” — she creates a new fictional character in which she reflects herself constantly changing and breaking new boundaries as a musical artist. 

The album ends with a refreshing and retro instrumental, leaving the readers content. “Drive On” does not signify the ending but rather the start to a new journey. Its calm tone concludes Moonchild as a way to drive away the chaos.

The singer, who is currently signed with 88rising — an Asian-based entertainment company known for contracts with such singers/bands as Joji and Rich Brian — certainly has shown her mettle here with this album. 

Moonchild signifies the growth of NIKI’s career and marks the beginning of NIKI’s declaration of her own musical character, and it is exciting to see her branching out of her comfort zone.